Suffolk: New care home plans put existing facilities in doubt

THE future of 16 council-run care homes hangs in the balance after a deal was struck with a private company to build 10 new facilities.

Care UK were yesterday given approval to build the new homes but it is unclear whether some or even all of the existing homes will be closed or demolished.

Portfolio holder with responsibility for adult and community services Colin Noble said the company had undertaken to build 10 new care homes with between 60 and 80 beds.

It would then have a total of 680 beds in Suffolk, compared with the 526 beds currently in county council-run homes.

Of these 680 beds, 370 would be specialist beds for people suffering from dementia.

Mr Noble insisted this did not mean all the existing care homes would necessarily be replaced by the new homes adding that the final decisions still had to be made.

And he pointed out that the county council only operated a minority of the residential home beds in the county – there are a total of 5,500 beds in residential homes.

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The county pays for 476 residents in its own homes and a further 2,300 in private residential homes. Other residents pay their own fees.

Mr Noble said: “This is good news for the people of the county. The number of people aged 75 and over will increase by 90% by 2030 and the number of people with dementia will have doubled.”

There had been a long procedure before Care UK was selected to take over the homes.

Mr Noble said: “We started with 23 serious expressions of interest and worked with our advisors KPMG to whittle them down until we have our preferred bidder now.”

However the decision worried the relatives of care home residents who were in the public gallery.

Gillian Hale, who lives in Bury St Edmunds, said her mother was a resident in Glastonbury Court in the town. She had been part of a delegation who had visited homes run by potential care providers.

She said: “I would have preferred another provider. We went to a home run by Care UK where there was one carer to every eight residents.

“At a home run by another provider there was one carer to every four – the same ratio as there is at Glastonbury Court. I do have concerns about that.”

Mr Noble said that was the experience at one of the homes they had visited – across all its homes Care UK had a similar ratio to other care providers.

Members of staff at the care homes are represented by UNISON, and regional spokeswoman Michelle Bradley said the union was keeping an open mind on the future of the care homes.

She said: “We would prefer that a public service remains just that, part of the public sector. Having said that we want to work with Suffolk and with Care UK to safeguard the interests of our members.

“So we will hope that they are able to ensure everything goes well for our members, the residents of the homes and their families – but if there are any problems we will certainly be telling people about them.”